Salvation by faith + works?
Some non-Catholics and even some Catholics think that Catholics believe in salvation by faith plus works. But this does not give accurate presentation what the Catholic Church teaches for two reasons. First, “faith plus good works” says nothing about the role of God’s Grace in both faith and obeying Him through good works. It makes good works become our own efforts, which, as we will see later, is not the teaching of the Catholic Church. Second, faith plus works might lead to the question: how much good works a Catholic must perform in order to secure a place in heaven? One former Catholic rhetorically asked me: how many Masses? How many good works? Another former Catholic, James McCarthy, founder of Good News for Catholics Ministry, developed sets of card to “evangelize” Catholics. He called it Pocket Evangelism Kit. Unwary Catholics are asked to pick card of which brief statement describes their understanding of how to be saved – whatever card he/she picks McCarthy will point out that it does not work.
If he selects the “Doing Good Works” card, the question is, “How many good works do you have to do to get into heaven?”
McCarthy, Conversations with Catholics, page 51
There is no such thing as minimum quota of good works for salvation in Catholic’s teaching!
The accurate Catholic position on salvation is Catholics believe that we are saved by God’s Grace. Without God’ Grace that first moves us, both to believe in Him & Christ and to obey His commandments, we cannot reach our salvation. The teaching that Grace precedes all our actions in relation to our salvation was declared by the Catholic Church in Council of Orange in 529 AD and reaffirmed in the Council of Trent in 1547.
If anyone says that God has mercy upon us when, apart from his grace, we believe, will, desire, strive, labor, pray, watch, study, seek, ask, or knock, but does not confess that it is by the infusion and inspiration of the Holy Spirit within us that we have the faith, the will, or the strength to do all these things as we ought; or if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, “What have you that you did not receive?” [1 Corinthians 4:7], and, “But by the grace of God I am what I am” [1 Corinthians 15:10].
Canon VI of Council of Orange
For, whereas Jesus Christ Himself continually infuses his virtue into the said justified,-as the head into the members, and the vine into the branches,-and this virtue always precedes and accompanies and follows their good works, which without it could not in any wise be pleasing and meritorious before God,
Council of Trent, Decree on Justification XVI
If any one saith, that without the prevenient inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and without his help, man can believe, hope, love, or be penitent as he ought, so as that the grace of Justification may be bestowed upon him; let him be anathema.
Council of Trent, Canon III of the Decree on Justification